Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou has announced that he would initiate a dialogue with stakeholders about shop opening hours. This transpired after a meeting he had with Povek, the association that represents the owners of small shops and businesses, which had always been opposed to Sunday opening.
“The development of a structured dialogue is needed through which the experience of the preceding period is evaluated for the planning of the next steps,” said Panayiotou. He would approach the dialogue with stakeholders without prejudice so that the best decision for society and the economy would be taken. The objective would be the “common good” he said.
It is difficult to understand why the minister has decided to open the matter of Sunday shopping, which appeared to have been settled some time ago. Had the president made a promise to revisit the issue during his election campaign, as he had done with CoLA? There is no other plausible explanation for the announcement of the dialogue, immediately after a meeting of the labour minister and Povek. Panayiotou did not even ask for time to consider the association’s request.
Shops have been open on Sundays for the last 10 years. Despite opposition from some political parties and attempts to block it, the Anastasiades government went ahead with it and Sunday shopping has become part of many people’s lifestyle. There were small convenience stores and greengrocers that were forced to close down once the big supermarkets opened on Sundays, but there is no denying that this made life easier for many people who were too busy to shop during the week. Shops are full of customers on Sundays, which suggests the measure works for many people.
Panayiotou will be unable to find a compromise among the stakeholders. Povek will want shops to stay closed on Sundays while the association of supermarkets will insist they stay open. Who will then decide the “common good” that the minister said was the objective? Who will define the best interests of society and the economy? Will consumers be invited to this ministry-sponsored dialogue? They would also be affected by the decision, so they should also have a say.
Then there are the tourist areas where shops were always open on Sundays. Will all the coastal towns be classed as tourist areas, in which case shops would stay closed on Sundays only in Nicosia? The minister will be opening a can of worms by starting a dialogue on this matter. Then again, it may just be a case of going through the motions so that the government can drop the matter when it fails to reach an agreement among the stakeholders.
This is the most likely outcome of the dialogue, because Sunday shopping has become part of the way of life. There can be no going back after 10 years.